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The first Cards for Ukraine book & bake sale will take place this Sunday in Vienna. I am nervous and anxious at the same time. A brief update from Austria (TL;DR everyone tired; no improvements).
This morning I was supposed to meet a Ukrainian woman, a leukaemia patient, living in a “hotel” in central Vienna. She wrote me in a panic yesterday, asking to be put in touch with a local journalist. I explained what I can and cannot do (I can listen and share your words, I cannot name names). We made a coffee date for this morning. At 10pm last night I received a text “I’ve been hospitalised. Have to cancel.” This is what she wrote me yesterday, with the pretext: other Ukrainians told me you are a person who can help in difficult situations. Which is, flattering, but also untrue. I cannot fight the man, as much as I would love to. I have no weapons and no political clout. All I can do is draw public attention to injustice in the hopes that real journalists and actual stakeholders do better. Usually it ends with only that: hope.
I have also been seeing many messages and posts all over social media by Ukrainian moms frustrated with the decisions of many educators in Austria to instruct many Ukrainian students to repeat the academic year next year. For some, like a mother of two who wrote me earlier this week, they have no home in Ukraine to go back to. She is from near Bakhmut. She has no alternative. She must try and make it work here. Others, who have relatively safe homes to return to (of course there are never any guarantees when a country is at war), may do just that this summer, I suspect, rather than explain to their kids why a third grader must repeat third grade for the third time. She will come volunteer at our book sale on Sunday, even though they live in Lower Austria. I promised to try and introduce her to a volunteer who writes incredible emails to authority figures (e.g. school directors) and has helped several Ukrainian children find school places which on paper would have looked impossible. But again, this is not a systemic solution, and that is the problem.
The Austrian school system makes it incredibly hard for non-native speakers of German to progress through the school system, as “integration” classes do exactly the opposite: they shove all the non-German speaking kids in a classroom together and expect them to learn German there. You can imagine how well it works (sarcasm). The worst part is there is now a totally subjective (i.e. teacher’s call) exam called MIKA-D which those kids have to pass in order to “test out” of an integration class and into a “normal” classroom.
I wrote this last night with the feeling I keep reading the same desperation over and over without any good advice to offer in return:
So that is all on my mind, on top of the “usual” fielding of requests for €50 supermarket gift cards. I keep receiving those, as well as many messages of thanks. How beautiful is this? She writes “Tanja, thank you so much for the help — the gift card to buy food was really useful at a difficult hour! God bless you, your family, and Austria.” Another woman wrote me yesterday, “I would also like to thank Tanja and team for the help, and it was really perfect timing, our fridge was totally empty. Thank you so much! God bless.”
These messages are to me but not really to me. They are to all of you. To every single person who donated a Hofer card. The Ukrainians thank me because I am the interface. They don’t get to meet the kind, ordinary people who helped them. So I want to make sure to pass on every extremely kind and warm word of thanks because what may sound to you just like €50 is actually much more than €50: it is an indication that someone out there cares, someone out there knows you are struggling right now, and wants to help in this small but very tangible way. You go to the store, you choose what you need, you receive help paying for it. As simple as that. And although with rampant food inflation the €50 unfortunately does not buy nearly as much as it did a year ago, I am still very proud of our program and what we have been managing to do for so long now. Thank you so much to Mario for continuing to do all the work related to Cards for Ukraine. I can handle the emotional labor. I am terrible at admin. I am forever grateful.
Friends of ours are having a big birthday party next weekend, and they have named two charities in lieu of gifts. One will be Cards for Ukraine. There will be a box, and guests are instructed to buy €50 supermarket gift cards and drop them in. I am so touched by this gesture, and I am also hopeful it will bring in a new round of funding at a time when we really need it.
The upcoming book and bake sale has been more time consuming than I envisioned (haha as is everything new you imagine in your head), but it will also be a good test case to see if there are other ways of raising funds beyond the traditional write about it and beg for funding, which is basically what has been sustaining us for over a year now. I also really hope it might be a nice informal social event for locals and Ukrainians alike to come together. Those opportunities are still quite rare. I am sure there are a million things I still forgot to do, and I will now turn to my lists and try and tick off boxes.
Here is our Facebook event if you would like to share with friends, and here is a flyer
Other recommended reading. Of all the hot takes on the (supposed) drone strikes on the Kremlin this weekend, I felt myself nodding along with Professor Timothy Snyder’s the most: Explosion over the Kremlin.
Ilya Lozovsky writes, “We just published an English version of @istories_media's look into the lives of three convicts who signed up for Wagner and died in Ukraine. It is bleak, bleak, bleak. A chilling portrait of modern Russia, and the lives its people are living.” Russia's Criminal 'Heroes': The Lives of the Wagner Group's Convict Recruits. A very difficult but important read. There is a socio-economic layer of society in Russia that even many locals only have a superficial understanding of. This is probably true for any large country, but even more so in Russia, where the wealth gaps are so obscene.
That’s got to be it for today. I will get back to my least favourite task — online marketing! And book collecting. And maybe baking tomorrow. Maybe. Still thinking about pricing. Prices are good as they make things fair, but I would also definitely put out a donation box for those who would give more. And at the end of the day, I don’t want us volunteers to be hauling kilos of books back to another charity shop.
We. will. see.
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